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Researchers find researchers overestimate soft-science results—US the worst offender

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Posted August 28, 2013

Researchers have found that authors of “soft science” research papers tend to overstate results more often than researchers in other fields. In their paper published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, Daniele Fanelli and John Ioannidis write that the worst offenders are in the United States.

In the science community, soft research has come to mean research that is done in areas that are difficult to measure—behavioral science being the most well known. Science conducted on the ways people (or animals) respond in experiments is quite often difficult to reproduce or to describe in measureable terms. For this reason, the authors claim, research based on behavioral methodologies has been considered (for several decades) to be at higher risk of bias, than with other sciences. Such biases, they suggest, tend to lead to inflated claims of success.

The problem Fanelli and Ioannidis suggest is that in soft science there are more “degrees of freedom”—researchers have more room to engineer experiments that will confirm what they already believe to be true. Thus, success in such sciences is defined as meeting expectations, rather than reaching a clearly defined goal or even discovering something new.

The researchers came to these conclusions by locating and analyzing 82 recent meta-analyses (papers produced by researchers studying published research papers) in genetics and in psychiatry that covered 1,174 studies. Including genetics allowed the duo to compare soft science studies with hard science studies as well as those that were a combination of the two.

 

Read more at: Phys.org

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